Voila, drought city has guests: Rain, bumper crops
In bundelkhand, farmers no longer gather in the village squares to chat aboUt the weather — or politics. in fact, there is no sign of the approaching general election. Even the politicians are waiting for the harvest season to end. Pankaj Jaiswal reports.india Updated: Apr 03, 2009 00:49 IST
The rain gods have beaten politicians this year in drought-prone Bundelkhand.
A bumper monsoon — the first in 10 years — has led to a bumper crop. And election time is also harvesting season in the region’s seven impoverished, parched districts.
“We’ll think about the elections later,” says Ramakant Patel, (43) overseeing workers on his 70-acre farm in Gadhar village in the Jalaun district, 200 kilometres south-west of the state capital of Lucknow.
“Anyway, what does it matter? Year after year we pleaded for better irrigation, for some help when our brothers were committing suicide,” he says. “Now God has come to our rescue, why should we care about the politicians?”
Impoverished Bundelkhand — all seven districts are listed among the poorest in the country — has suffered severe drought for five years.
There are only the most basic irrigation facilities in the region, with the odd canals full of debris and poorly maintained.
So when the rains stayed away, crops failed, indebtedness grew and farmers began committing suicide. Some died of starvation.
There is no official record of how many because the Bahujan Samaj Party state government responded by denying the deaths — and handing out relief cheques of Rs 600 to Rs 800 to the families left behind.
The village square is deserted; there are no farmers lounging, talking about the weather — or politics.
In fact, there is no sign of the approaching national election.
No banners or posters, no public meetings.
Even the politicians are waiting for the harvesting season to end. They know no one will listen while the frenzy continues.
“Yes, we will vote,” says Patel. “Voting has become a ritual in our country. But it doesn’t really matter who comes to power, does it? They are all the same.”
The rage has built up over the years.
In 2007, 90 per cent of the land in Bundelkhand was left unsown because the farmers had not even recovered the cost of the seeds.
The following year, per capita income for the region’s 1.2 crore people dipped to Rs 18,597 per annum, less than half the national average.
But a good monsoon last year has changed everything, at least for the time being.
Giant harvesting machines — an unusual sight in Bundelkhand — are rolling in from Punjab.
There are celebrations in the villages as the harvesting machines rattle across the fields, disgorging grain by the tonne in the larger farms.
The small farmers are frantically busy with their sickles, stashing away the yield before joining the teeming labourers in the bigger fields.
There was such impatience to get at the wheat that the villagers even bypassed the traditional harvest festival in mid-March.
“When you have gold in your fields after a gap of so many years, it is impossible to keep the sickles waiting,” says Ramsingh Rajput (40), a farmer with 40 acres in Jalaun. “We feel like a woman who is blessed with a child after years of prayers.”